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Jack Losh reports for Vice from Starognatovka (Starohnativka in Ukrainian) on the heavy fighting that broke out on Monday morning last week.
At the time, there were conflicting claims on the extent of the Ukrainian counter-attack, with some officers and journalists reporting that Ukrainian troops had entered the village of Novolaspa before being withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military denied that their forces had ever entered the village, which is on the separatist side of the Minsk demarcation line, perhaps out of fear of provoking a Russian retaliation.
Vladislav Selezynov, a spokesman for the ATO, told reporters that Ukrainian forces had instead taken control of commanding heights to the west of Novolaspa.
If true, this was the first Ukrainian territorial gain since February 10, when Ukrainian forces retook several villages east of Mariupol (most of which, bar part of Shirokino) were subsequently lost to a Russian-backed counter-attack.
In Losh’s report, published yesterday, he relays claims from Ukrainian soldiers, volunteers and civilians on the front line in Starognatovka who say that they did indeed reach Novolaspa before withdrawing, but that no lasting territorial gains had been made:
Olena Maksymenko, 27, a volunteer paramedic from Kiev who also serves as the medical unit’s press officer, told VICE News: “They said we took new territory from the separatists but it’s not true. Our troops did move forward but they pulled back soon afterwards.
“The Defense Ministry just wants to show a nice situation for the people back home. But it wasn’t pretty. Three men died from Right Sector [a paramilitary group which fights for Ukraine] and four from the army. One guy died as we treated him — he didn’t stand a chance.”
Back on the main road towards the front, Anatoli, a 40-year-old sergeant, cradled an assault rifle as he described the attack. “The battle began in the early hours of Monday and finished at around 11am before intensifying again after lunch,” he said. “It was heavy — Grad missiles, multi-caliber shells, and surveillance drones.”
Again pouring cold water on Kiev’s claims that new ground had been captured, he added: “We moved forward to Novolaspa [a village trapped between both front lines]. But we saw a group of tanks there so we pulled back to our original positions.”
Away from the town center, a cadre of civilian contractors were building a fresh network of trenches at Ukraine’s frontline positions. Their boss, Vladimir Bardesh, also insisted that no new ground had been permanently taken. “Sure, some of our soldiers moved forward but they didn’t stay there for long,” he said. “Nothing has changed.”
His words chimed with multiple witnesses: this is an elastic front line which, apparently, had stretched forward on Monday, only to snap back several hours later.
— Pierre Vaux
The death toll from Sunday night’s attack on the village of Sartana, just outside Mariupol, has risen to three, reports 0629.com.ua.
Stepan Makhsma, the village head, told 0629 that a woman, whose 10-year-old daughter had to have a foot amputated yesterday due to wounds sustained during the shelling, died in hospital today from multiple shrapnel wounds.
Seven others were wounded in the attack.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced this morning that a five-month-old baby was wounded after Russian-backed forces shelled Marinka, west of Donetsk, at around 1 am today.
One shell exploded in a residential area of Ordzhonikidze Street, where the infant’s family lives. While other family members escape injury, their child received shrapnel wounds to their abdomen. The infant has been taken to a hospital in Dnipropetrovsk for surgery.
Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, a military spokesman for the Presidential Administration, announced at noon today that one Ukrainian soldier had been killed and another wounded over the last 24 hours.
According to Motuzyanyk, both casualties occurred near Donetsk.
The Ukrainian military’s ATO Press Centre claimed this morning that Russian-backed forces had conducted 86 attacks over the last 24 hours.
This represented a drop from the rate seen over the last few days, however Colonel Motuzyanyk suggested that the reduction in shelling may be due to nothing more than the militants running low on ammunition.
According to the ATO Press Centre, Ukrainian defensive positions in Krasnogorovka, west of Donetsk, and Beryozovoye, near the Donetsk-Mariupol highway, were shelled with 120 mm mortars. Marinka, where the Interior Ministry reported the wounded infant, was attacked with grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms. Avdeyevka, to the north, was reportedly shelled with 122 mm artillery and mortars.
From 22:00, 152 mm artillery was used against Ukrainian positions to the west of Donetsk, including Krasnogorovka, Gornyak and Nevelskoye.
In the south of the region, Ukrainian troops in Starognatovka were shelled with 120 mm mortars at 18:45. The village was also shelled with Grad rockets.
To the east of Donetsk, the village of Luganskoye, south-east of Artyomovsk, was shelled.
The Lugansk Military-Civil Administration reported today Stanitsa Luganskaya, Krymskoye, Valuyskoye and the area around the Olkhovaya railway station had all been subjected to intense fire.
From 21:15 until 2:15 am, Stanitsa Luganskaya was shelled with 122 mm self-propelled artillery. As a result, two houses were burnt down and a café damaged.
Six houses were damaged in Valuyskoye while a gas main was almost completely severed near the Olkhovaya station, leaving 506 households without gas.
— Pierre Vaux